The Arab basketball team’s hopes of making it to the Class 5A Elite 8 ended Saturday, when the Knights fell to Center Point 57-43 in a game where a glaring statistic tells a good bit of the story.
Center Point scored 18 points off turnovers compared to Arab’s 4. The Knights had a 13-12 lead at the end of the first quarter, but even then the Eagles’ quickness was beginning to show up.
As expected, they weren’t necessarily the greatest shooting team Arab would face, making 15 of 35 (42.9 percent) goals from the field and only 1 of 7 3-pointers, but they knew exactly how to fly to the ball and make a steal.
No one had to tell Arab head coach Justin Jonus a single stat when the game ended.
“Turnovers and free throws were the difference,” he said.
Those statistics sum up the story pretty well. Arab had 17 turnovers while being credited with making only two steals compared to Center Point, which had seven turnovers and made 11 steals.
The Eagles’ defense got rolling late in the first quarter and it showed up on the scoreboard by the second when Center Point outscored Arab 14-4. The Knights made 13 of 18 free throws for the game compared to 26 of 36 for the Eagles, who hit 14 of 18 in the final quarter when Arab was forced to foul after finding themselves down 37-24 at the end of the third quarter.
The Knights didn’t light up the scoreboard themselves, making 14 of 35 2’s and 2 of 9 3’s. Arab outrebounded Center Point 28-22, but the Knights were called for 24 fouls compared to the Eagles’ 19.
Both Colby King and Blake Kelley picked up quick fouls in their opening minutes and fouled out late.
“Yeah, it affects how you play to some extent when that happens,” said Jonus. “We went only about seven or eight deep today. I don’t think anybody played bad and killed us but there were moments that didn’t go our way.”
It seemed every time the Eagles would break out to a double-digit lead the Knights would make a play and get back into the game, but they couldn’t seem to make the second play.
“It was about a 10-point game almost all the second half,” said Jonus. “We had a couple of wide open 3’s, a couple of post-ups that rolled out and we missed some key free throws.
“If any of those go down in a row it becomes a game again.”
The coach knew his team was playing hard and under pressure.
“I told the guys that if the Good Lord rewarded great people we would have won that game easy. But, sports is nothing about the type of person you are, it’s about a ball going into a basket and today the ball didn’t go into the basket like we needed it to,” he said. “They only made one more goal than we did, but they made 26 free throws and that was huge.”
Jordan Chatman, who had 16 points, was Center Point’s best player and he certainly had his moments.
“We let 23 get going early and we talked about that a lot, but he’s a good player and got loose a few times,” Jonus said.
King, who had 12 points, was the only Knight in double figures. Brooks Malone and Kent Tyler had eight points each, James Ed Johnson had five and Kelley, still with his hand in a cast, had four points off two dunks.
Malone had eight rebounds while Johnson, Kelley, King and Tyler had four each.
The Knights had their share of ups and downs this season, most notably with injuries. Logan Parker’s torn ACL during the Cullman game in mid-January sidelined him for the remainder of the year. That was tough on the team and tough on the individual.
But there were many nights where players were on the court playing sick or hurt with little fanfare. Saturday’s loss left Jonus a bit emotional about the group, especially the 10 seniors who will leave their high school days behind in a few short months.
“Colby King came down here and had a good game but I can go right down the line talking about all these seniors. They have all been such a blessing,” Jonus said. “I don’t cry and I don’t get upset after games, but I cried in that dressing room on them today.
“That’s not me but when you lose these guys that you love this much, that you’ve been around so long, and you want it for them so bad, it’s tough.
“It’s almost like being a parent because they’re my family.
“I told them about my senior year when we lost the first round of the area tournament and went home. You think your life is over but they’ll move on and hopefully remember the good things and what they’ve accomplished here.
“Three Sweet Sixteens back to back to back is something to be proud of. The people in that room leaving me are better people than when I met them and that’s the goal. We coach the person, then the player here.
“A lot of teams cried last week in that first round of the area and went home. I told my guys the silver lining of this is crying at Jacksonville State is a lot better than crying the first round of area.
“It was a great season, but you do hate that last game. We needed a little more boost today and it didn’t come.”
The Knights end the season at 19-11.